Kane County History: Astonishing Detail, Symbolism in Geneva's 18th Century Creche

Kane County History: Astonishing Detail, Symbolism in Geneva’s 18th Century Creche

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post is contributed by Terry Emma, director of the Geneva History Museum. All photos are courtesy of the Geneva History Museum.

Come to the Geneva History Museum to marvel at one of Geneva’s longtime Christmas traditions, the 18th century Neapolitan Crèche that was brought to Geneva in 1930 by The Little Traveler founder, Kate Raftery.

Kate acquired these rare figures on one of her trips to Italy and paired them with a 17th century French Provincial corner bed to create a display each holiday season. The crèche became a symbol of Christmas in Geneva and was part of the annual Christmas pageant for St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

The crèche was donated to the Geneva History Museum in the 1990s where special fundraising efforts have allowed for its conservation and preservation.  All of the 44 figures have been restored, as well as their silk clothing and the cork and papier-mâché Grotto.  Figures are also available for adoption to help support ongoing restoration needs.

In 2020, local artist, Dennis Gramlich, painted a 14-foot long canvas mural scene of Naples, Italy for the backdrop of the Crèche. He painted inside the museum during the COVID pandemic closure and the community watched from the windows on South Third Street.

The background imagery is consistent with 18th century Naples and was an inspiration of “Bay of Naples from the North” painted by Claude-Jospeh Vernet.

Neapolitan Crèches are wonderful examples of 18th-century Baroque art and are prized for their realistic miniaturizations of figures and scenes.

Artists and artisans who specialized in many different areas — costumes, jewelry, silver, silk manufacturing or woodcarving — each contributed to the making of the figures, leading to brilliantly realistic details on the smallest scale.  Most figures are made with painted glass eyes, a hand sculpted and painted terra-cotta head, a set of wooden or terra-cotta hands and legs, and a wire-framed body wrapped in hemp.

Discover the symbolisms and hidden meanings of the figures, animals and scenes during a visit to the Geneva History Museum.

Admission is free from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays until Dec. 23 and includes the 3,000-square-foot gallery “Geneva’s Story” with rare artifacts, archival images, a theatre and story booth.

Read The Kane County History Series!

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